Faced with new realities, more urban dwellers are considering packing it up for the promise of personal space and a backyard.
The coronavirus pandemic is convincing many GTAers it’s time to get out of the city for good. Concerns about living in small spaces in a post-COVID future coupled with historically low mortgage rates and the flexibility of remote work means even the most die hard urbanites are finding moving out of the GTA more appealing now than ever.
As large urban centres continue to face the realities of COVID-19, an impromptu migration is occurring with urban dwellers looking away from expensive, crowded cities to Ontario’s small towns and rural areas. Even before the onset of the pandemic, the argument for leaving cities had begun. Young people in particular debated making their move to look for more space and affordability that would accommodate their growing lives in places like Hamilton, Kitchener and Niagara. If anything the coronavirus is shaping up to be the catalyst in accelerating what may become a massive shift in where and how Ontarians live.
In a crisis that has forced us to spend 24/7 living, working, eating and learning at home, it’s no surprise many are feeling cabin fever. Our homes have always been the place where we seek refuge, comfort, security and calm, and now more than ever, the home is a haven and the place where all parts of life unfold.
While some are doing what once seemed unthinkable, opting to trade in a condo in the core for a two-storey on a quiet crescent, others are fast-tracking ‘someday’ plans to right now after sheltering in place for weeks. There’s a feeling that in today’s era of physical distancing, things like the cultural amenities, public transit and lively streets that attracted many to city living in the first place have now been so fundamentally changed that they no longer resonate. Public life once taken for granted in the city – late night diner meals, lounging in the park, tickets to the game and after work drinks – has been shelved as we’re told to stay in our private spaces, leaving many to wonder what’s left.
And if splitting more time between home and the office continues to be the new norm with many companies like tech giant Shopify announcing offices will be closed well into 2021, justifying the high rent and cramped quarters will be even harder when it no longer matters where you live. A May 2020 Conference Board of Canada survey suggests 30 per cent of employees will be required to continue working remotely on a permanent basis. When the commute is removed from the conversation about where to live, the idea of putting down roots someplace outside the GTA where the problems of city living won’t follow becomes even more appealing. Moreover, having a dedicated space to work or study from home productively has moved to the top of many people’s wish list as they reevaluate what they want from their home, and they’re willing to move a little further out to get that space along with a backyard for the kids to run free and a kitchen that can handle prepping three meals a day plus endless snacks.
Still, being close to all the essentials (or at least within their delivery zone) is a priority that the small towns of Southwestern Ontario can meet, thanks to their historical downtowns lined with one of everything you may need (a grocery store, hardware shop, bank and medical office) plus that spot for artisan coffee or craft beer, independently owned boutiques and family-run restaurants. Places like Kitchener-Waterloo, Thorold and Stoney Creek have become an attractive middle ground between the city and the countryside, offering a less intense and more dispersed version of an urban centre where you can get to know shop owners and the people that fill your order.
On top of the convenience, these small, close-knit towns don’t lack ways to stay active and entertained, even when many things we love to do are limited or closed. Canals, lakes and waterfronts are close by for personal enjoyment, as are golf courses, hiking and biking trails, open fields, community green space and farmer’s markets and wineries.
Perhaps the small towns of Southwestern Ontario are just the place for us to build something real, lasting and different “when this is all over.”